Bad Habits of a Gen Y-er: Not Playing the Politics Game

by Emily Jasper on February 1, 2009

So last fall, the world expected to see Gen-Y change the nation by showing up to vote. I even made sure to have filed for my Minnesota drivers license a couple days beforehand just to be sure. Apparently, Gen-Yers are all about the politics. Trust me, I used to live in DC. I would say that is pretty accurate in that city.

That statement, however, wasn’t so accurate when I got to Minnesota. While many Gen-Yers had their own opinions about the race, they weren’t pounding it down my throat like the DC Gen-Yers. In fact, some of my DC friends were so politically-passionate (which is fine), that they ignored my request to not include me and instead made me want to NOT vote.

Why all this about the Presidential race?

Politicking in the office is very similar to politicking in the government. People make alliances, shake hands to get things done, and hence the phrase “Good Old Boy Business” still gets applied to a number of companies today.

Naturally, one would assume that if Gen-Yers were so involved in the political changes made last fall, that Gen-Yers would be all over politicking in the office. But it’s not true.

It’s one thing to stand up for something you believe in, it’s another to buy into all the responsibilities that come with accepting campaign funding or having large bodies of influence with their own agendas. While Gen-Yers aren’t in a position to change all of that for the US Government (but you all know it will drastically change as Traditionalists and Boomers leave their positions), Gen-Yers don’t play the game in the workplace.

Why is this a bad habit? Because it’s just as annoying as “asking why” all the time.

So for example, I was in a staff meeting with our extended group (I’m in a small team within Marketing). A woman, not a Y-er, on the team was talking about a message our CEO just delivered to the company. She said, “While I’ve never spoken to him myself, he comes across with a lot of honesty and integrity.” Naturally, I was shocked…because the CEO’s office is literally across the hall from us. All you have to do is say “Hi” when he walks by.

And our CEO is awesome, by the way. He’s an X-er who is really going to do some neat things with our company. So I wanted to get to know him. When I realized I could do it, I bypassed the traditional ladder to him in order that we could build a rapport. He’s actually already nicknamed me “the pit-bull,” but in a good way. I promise I haven’t bitten or clawed at anyone since being in Minnesota.

Unsurprisingly, when I sit in a room with some of our other executives who all play position with each other, I realize we’re not going to get anything done. There are a lot of other interests on the table instead of just the good of the company, which is the same situation for companies across the board right now. And you can’t say, “Cut the crap, people.” Executives don’t really like that.

Being rebellious, I refuse to play. I have my own things I would like to get done, but as far as I’m concerned, those aren’t as critical as keeping the company on top during a recession.

The trick I have learned, though, is that if you aren’t going to play the political game, then you need to have a good plan. You can’t just spout off opinions or come up with great ideas. If you are going to present something that is nontraditional for your organization, you need to come prepared. Make a business plan for everything, including the execution and field enablement plans. Throw in the contingency plan and the list of things that could go wrong. You’ll have shown you put real thought into this. Trust me, at higher levels, many leaders haven’t had to think this thoroughly about actions in a long time. They may work on the brainstorming, but in-depth planning often gets delegated. Prove that you’re a step ahead.

And then you can make change happen.

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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